What’s the first step to cementing your status as one of the best in badminton? If you ask me, the first step is to establish dominance where many of the sports superstars are. Right off the bat, this means being the best in Asia. One Malaysian badminton player has done this, rising to the top of the Asian rankings — and his name is Lee Zii Jia!
Lee Zii Jia took the Asian badminton scene by storm after winning the 2022 Badminton Asia Championships. The victory not only cemented his status as one of Asia’s fastest-rising men’s singles badminton players, but it also made him the sixth Malaysian player to win the prestigious Asian title. Before his historic 2022 Asian Championship victory, he had already bagged numerous titles. He won three titles on the World Tour, with one of his victories taking place at the prestigious 2021 All England. His All England title victory shocked the badminton world as it was over Denmark’s Viktor Axelsen. He also bagged the 2019 Southeast Asian Games, as well as the 2017 Polish International. As of October 25, 2022, Lee Zii Jia skyrocketed to second place on the Badminton World Federation (BWF) World Rankings, holding his spot for 13 consecutive weeks. He slid down the rankings slightly on January 24, 2023.
Debuting as recently as 2016, Lee Zii Jia has a long way to go in his badminton career. In the meantime, join me as we look at the accomplishments of Lee Zii Jia — a badminton player whose early success foreshadows an exciting future in the sport!
Lee Zii Jia was born on March 29, 1998, in Kedah, Malaysia. He’s the son of Leow Siet Peng and Lee Chee Hin. As the son of athletically inclined parents, Lee Zii Jia tried different sports at an early age. When he turned six, he felt the lure of the racket and shuttlecock.
Under his father’s influence, Lee Zii Jia tried badminton at a local sports club in his hometown. His early involvement in badminton began as a casual way to pass the time. Experiencing the positive effects of the sport, the young Lee continued playing badminton in his adolescence for health reasons.
As the years passed, Lee saw more than health improvements from his time on the court. His skills improved. When he turned 13, he played in his first competitive matches in his hometown.
Showing promise, Lee caught the attention of several local badminton clubs. It wasn’t long before he joined the ranks of the Bukit Jalil Sports School, one of Malaysia’s premier schools for youth sporting development.
Training in the school, he sharpened his skills further. After a while, he made his youth debut in 2012.
Lee Zii Jia’s Junior Career and Accomplishments
Lee Zii Jia kicked off his junior badminton career at the 2012 Smiling Fish International Series in Thailand. He competed as a boy’s singles player, advancing no further than the round of 32 stages.
Five months later, he competed in the boys’ singles and doubles events of the 2012 Badminton Asia Youth Championships. Despite better performances in both events, Lee came shy of a podium finish after losing in the preliminary stages.
Competing in nearly a dozen tournaments between 2012 and 2015, Lee had yet to find his form. Luckily, he found his rhythm in 2016 when he won his first medal at the Granular-Paid Pay Junior Open in Thailand, where he bagged bronze.
Three months later, Lee Zii Jia won his first junior title. He won his first gold medal after defeating France’s Arnaud Merkle in the finals of the 2016 Yonex Dutch Junior. Not only did the young Lee win his finals match — he won in straight sets.
Lee’s 2016 campaign was off to a flying start following the Dutch Junior. Days after the tournament, he competed at the 2016 Yonex German Junior. Confident and in form, he breezed past other young badminton players to land an impressive bronze medal finish.
The podium finishes didn’t stop there. Traveling back to Malaysia, Lee Zii Jia played at the 2016 Malaysia Youth International Under-19. At the tournament, he advanced far enough to win another bronze medal.
The young Lee Zii Jia won another bronze medal at the 2016 Polish International. Months later, he was a favorite at the BWF World Junior Championships, winning bronze after dominating the boy’s singles tournament until the semis.
The up-and-coming Lee capped off his junior badminton career with an impressive showing at the 2016 India International Series. At the India International, he advanced to the semifinals to face fellow Malaysian shuttler Cheam June Wei. Lee dominated all five games to advance to the finals.
Unfortunately, the final match turned out differently for Lee. In the finals, Lee Zii Jia played against hometown favorite Lakshya Sen. In four matches, the young Almora native bested his Malaysian opponent.
Despite the loss, Lee Zii Jia walked away with a silver medal and the admiration of everyone at the Gopichand Academy in Hyderabad.
2017: Lee Zii Jia’s Senior Debut
Lee Zii Jia debuted as a senior badminton player immediately after the India International. His first senior tournament was the 2017 Malaysia Masters. Unfortunately, he advanced no further than the round of 64 stages, losing to India’s Harsheel Dani in the singles elimination round.
Hungry for redemption, Lee competed again two weeks later. At the 2017 Thailand Masters, he made it far enough in the tournament to win his first bronze medal as a senior player.
Two months after the Malaysia International Series, Lee Zii Jia set his sights on his first senior title. Eager for his first title, he played at the 2017 Polish International. In the early rounds, he dominated the men’s singles event to reach the final. Awaiting him in the finals was fellow Malaysian player Soong Joo Ven.
Lee showed his compatriot no mercy as he dominated the match in straight sets. After the 33rd minute, he won his first senior title — and at the BWF International Series, to boot!
2018-2019: First World Tour Title and SEA Games Title
Unlike in his debut year, Lee Zii Jia had a slow start to his 2018 campaign, with back-to-back early losses at the Malaysia Masters and India Open. He also failed to advance past the round of 32 stages at the 2018 Swiss Open and China Masters.
Things seemed bleak for the young Malaysian player’s 2018 career. However, the train of losses and early round eliminations did little to deter Lee Zii Jia. In October 2018, he set his sights on his first World Tour title. For this reason, he competed at the 2018 Chinese Taipei Open.
He dominated the men’s singles tournament. He even made short work of hometown favorite Chou Tien Chen in the semis. At the time, Chou was number four in the World Rankings, meaning Lee Zii Jia’s victory was the upset of the tournament.
Advancing to the finals, he faced off against Japan’s Riichi Takeshita. Lee won the first game decisively, but Takeshita rallied from behind to win the second.
After the 63rd minute, Lee won the third game and his first World Title!
The victory was momentous for two reasons. Yes, the victory gave Lee his first World Tour gold medal. More importantly, the win made him the second Malaysian player to win a men’s singles World Tour title. Before he won, the last person to win it was Lee Chong Wei in 2013.
After his impressive victory at the Chinese Taipei Open, he flew to South Korea for the 2018 Korea Masters. There, he easily made it to the finals, where he faced South Korea’s Son Wan Ho. Despite losing, Lee’s performance was enough to give him a runner-up finish to cap off 2018.
In 2019, Lee Zii Jia qualified to compete at the 2019 Southeast Asian Games in Manila, Philippines. There, he breezed through the men’s singles event. Advancing to the finals, he faced Singapore’s Loh Kean Yew.
Lee dominated the match, winning it in straight sets. His victory enabled Malaysia to reclaim the SEA Games men’s singles title after failing to win it in 2017.
2020 to 2021: Climbing the World Rankings and All England Victory
By early 2020, Lee Zii Jia had amassed multiple international titles and World Tour titles. He has also been on the podium multiple times since his senior debut in 2017. Because of his accomplishments, Lee Zii Jia has inched closer to the top ten rankings.
Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic opened a floodgate of event cancellations. Following the announcement of the COVID outbreak in Europe, tournaments like the German Open didn’t push through. However, one tournament continued despite restrictions — the 2020 All England.
The two shuttlers battled in a match that went to three games. In the end, Axelsen was the better shuttler, defeating Lee in the final game 21-19.
Lee’s performance got him the bronze medal. Most importantly, his performance won him enough points in the rankings to break into the top ten best players in the world!
In 2021, Lee qualified for the All England again. At the 2021 All England, he made it to the finals. In the final match, the man who defeated him in the previous All England awaited him — Viktor Axelsen.
The first game was close, with Lee narrowly beating Axelsen 21-19. The second game was just as close, but Axelsen scored the tie-breaking two points to win 22-20.
Forcing the final match into a third game, Lee and Axelsen battled for the All England victory. In the end, Lee finally got the better of his Danish opponent to win the Al England!
2022: Becoming Asian Champion and World Number 2
At the start of 2022, Lee Zii Jia left the Badminton Association of Malaysia (BAM). Handing in his resignation, he received a ban from the association from international competition.
Barred from playing internationally, Lee Zii Jia was unable to compete. Shortly after his resignation, he retracted his decision to resign — a decision that led to the lifting of the ban.
Now allowed to compete again, Lee Zii Jia opened his 2022 account with bronze medal finishes at the 2022 German Open and 2022 All England. Later, he embarked on a quest to win his first Asian Badminton Championship title.
At the 2022 Badminton Asia Championships, Lee Zii Jia was one of the favorites to win. There, he dominated the tournament, reaching the finals easily.
In the finals, he faced Indonesia’s Jonatan Christie. The match was a landslide. In straight games, Lee outperformed his Indonesian opponent to win the prestigious Asian Championships.
With two titles in the bag, Lee Zii Jia improved his standing in the world rankings. As of October 25, 2022, Lee Zii Jia became number two on the World Rankings, holding the position until January 24, 2023.
What’s Next for Lee Zii Jia?
Lee Zii Jia’s ascent in the World Rankings is reminiscent of Lee Chong Wei’s. Will Lee Zii Jia replicate or outdo the Malaysian Legend? If Lee Zii Jia’s accomplishments are any indication of what’s to come, the possibility isn’t far-fetched.
Of course, Lee Zii Jia is only a few years into his badminton career. All we can do is sit back and look forward to more stellar performances from this up-and-coming Malaysian shuttler.
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